Primary Resources

This resource gallery has been developed to be used for pre visit preparatory work and for post visit reference. You will find a range of primary documents and material here that links to the themes in each unit. By clicking on any image below you can access background information on the source and also find out where it came from and where it is currently held.

Back to Resource listing

Servants’ call bells


Servants were never far from their work: always on call, they were summoned by the ringing of bells. These bells are marked with the name of a corresponding room and often bells had different ring tones so if the servant was in another part of the house, he or she would know where the call had come from.

In larger households there were many servants and each had a specific role. In smaller households servants had to multi task and the day could be very long and arduous. There was great prestige in the number and diversity of servants. In the 19th century it was not unusual for a family of six people to be looked after by a resident indoor staff of 20.

'The larger the house, the larger the number of servants required to cope with the multitude of tasks involved. In 1911 the Marquis Conyngham, for example, employed a private nurse, a governess, two lady's maids, a butler, cook, housekeeper, valet, two footmen, a hallboy, as well as scullery, kitchen, parlour, dairy and house maids at Slane. As socio economic strength declined, so too did the dependence on servants, who became less affordable. In this way the role of servants in big houses reflected the much wider decline of the houses themselves.'

Terence Dooley, The Decline of the big House in Ireland: A Study of Irish Landed Families 1860-1960. Wolfhound Press, 2001. (P 151-2)

Open Resource